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Scottish Conservatives - Save Our High Streets

The Scottish Conservatives are calling on the SNP to save Scotland’s high streets.

On Small Business Saturday, the Scottish Conservatives are joining the chorus of businesses demanding action from the SNP to revitalise Scotland’s high streets and introduce a series of measures that would enable local councils to support Scotland’s retailers.

Scotland’s high streets are facing unprecedented threats from increasing business rates, SNP tax hikes, a stagnant economy and a dramatic increase in online retail.

Over the last year, a number of high profile firms have collapsed showing the precarious nature of the sector.

Indeed, almost 300 stores went out of business across Scotland in 2017. That’s a rate of 5.5 per week, the worst in the UK. 

To address these issues, the Scottish Conservatives are promoting a plan to support Scotland’s high streets to become dynamic, flexible, welcoming spaces, able to provide a range of different experiences for our communities.

The measures would also incentivise businesses to stay and grow in the local area, reduce business rates and give local councils and businesses more opportunity to regenerate town centres creatively.

The Save Our High Streets campaign calls on the SNP to –

  • Cut business rates including the large business supplement
  • Permanently change business poundage increases to CPI
  • Support BIDs across Scotland
  • Free up planning restrictions in town centres
  • Increase the use of public procurement to support the local economy

Dean Lockhart, Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary said:

“Scottish high streets are the lifeblood of towns and villages across the country.

“SNP policies to increase business rates, increase income tax and its failure to implement a proper business rates appeal system have damaged Scottish retailers - and Scottish high streets continue to struggle.

“The Scottish Conservatives have suggested concrete, constructive solutions to support our high streets not just to survive, but to thrive.

“These are challenging times for our high streets and the SNP has completely failed to respond appropriately.

“Vibrant Scottish high streets are crucial for communities and for businesses.

‘’Saturday 1 December is ‘Small Business Saturday’, a day on which we should celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of Scotland’s small businesses including those operating on our high streets.

“The SNP must ‘Save Our High Streets’ to ensure that they can, once again, become the beating heart of our communities.”




Notes to editors:

The Scottish Conservatives are calling for the Scottish Government to -

  • Cut business rates including the large business supplement
  • Permanently change business poundage increases to CPI
  • Support BIDs across Scotland
  • Free up planning restrictions in town centres
  • Increase the use of public procurement to support the local economy

Further detail is as follows:

  1. Cut business rates including the large business supplement

Non-domestic rates are the most significant direct tax on business over which the SNP have full control. The Barclay Review was a missed opportunity to have a more fundamental review of business taxation. It retains much of the complexity of the existing system, without addressing the fundamental need for more competitive taxes that help businesses grow and expand.

The business rates burden is now at its highest level since 2003, costing businesses £2.7 billion in the last financial year, the equivalent of 2.04 per cent of the Scottish economy.

The SNP government will force businesses in Scotland to pay an additional £130 million as a result of increasing the large business supplement rate to 2.3 per cent, instead of the 1.3 per cent in England. The large business supplement will hit 22,000 companies in Scotland this year. That includes 5128 shops, 3627 offices, 928 hotels and 665 pubs.

The Chancellor recently announced £1.5 billion to support small high street shops in the UK Budget, including a £900 million pledge to cut business rates by a third and a £650 million transformation fund for local high streets. This gave £42.9 million to the Scottish Government in order to help small businesses in the next year alone.

This policy only reinforces Scotland as the highest taxed part of the UK, it is obviously a disincentive to businesses in Scotland, and hurts our competitiveness with the rest of the UK. It must be reduced the same levels as the rest of the UK in order for businesses to expand and create more jobs.

Reducing business rates would provide a powerful economic boost to all businesses and high streets.

The SNP must therefore reduce business rates and the large business supplement

  1. Permanently change business rates poundage increases to CPI


In a response to Bill Bowman MSP, the Finance Secretary stated that “Decisions on each years non-domestic (business) rates poundage will be made in light of affordability at future years Budgets.”

The Barclay Review estimates that the annual cost to the Scottish budget of using CPI instead of RPI would be “roughly £60 million to £80 million” by 2021. This is the same amount that businesses would have to pay if the CPI measure was not adopted long-term (Scottish Government, Barclay Review, p.89, link).

At last year’s UK Budget the Chancellor brought forward plans to link rates to CPI - currently at 2.4 per cent - and not RPI – currently at 3.3 per cent. (ONS, Inflation and Price Indices, 17 October 2018, link).

Having a different poundage rate link in Scotland to the rest of the UK will only disadvantage Scottish businesses and yet the SNP has repeatedly failed to make this commitment. We wholeheartedly agree with both the Barclay Review and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce that CPI is a better measure of inflation and provides a fairer settlement to businesses.

The SNP must therefore permanently change business rate poundage increases to CPI

  1. Support new and existing Business Improvement Districts across Scotland

Business Improvement Districts play a big part in revitalising town centres and the Scottish Government should encourage the setting up of new BIDs across Scotland. It should also consider giving BIDs broader powers in planning policy or allowing them to apply for Compulsory Purchase Orders. They could also be allowed to bid for capital funding from the council or the Scottish Government directly. Having businesses involved directly in strategic decision making will ensure that direct local experience can be utilised in policy making. It is after all in their interest to ensure our town centres, for example, are attractive places for shoppers and visitors.

The SNP must support new and existing Business Improvement Districts across Scotland.

  1. Free up planning restrictions in town centres

High streets are the heart of many communities, but they don’t all need to be the same. The Scottish Conservatives would extend permitted development rights so that different kinds of businesses can find it easier to move into premises on the high street. We should also look into extending permitted development rights to make change of use from certain commercial classes into residential classes easier. Many people would love to live in the heart of a community and as residents they would also use local shops, cafes and public areas in the town centres.

The SNP must free up the planning restrictions in town centres

  1. Increase the use of public procurement to support the local economy

Official figures, published by the Improvement Service, showed that local procurement spend has decreased in the majority of council areas over the last ten years, with this being significantly pronounced in some more than others. For example, six councils have experienced a 10% or greater reduction in the local share of procurement.

This clearly shows the need for a re-balancing of local authority spending towards supporting the wide range of local businesses wherever possible. Clearly even a small increase in the proportion of procurement spend in local areas would have a dramatic effect on the local economy.

The statistics are drawn from the following report: …

The SNP must increase the use of public procurement processes to support the local economy

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